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Social work students explore Richmond history at the intersection of race and mental health

“We want social workers to understand the systemic and community context necessary for mental wellness, including the ways in which social work has upheld white supremacy,” organizer M. Alex Wagaman said.

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By Brian McNeill

Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old black man shot and killed by a Richmond police officer in May, stood before a crowd of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work students, faculty and alumni.

Her message: People experiencing mental health crisis deserve help, and we need to break down the stigma preventing them from getting it.

“Think about some of those words that prevent a whole lot of us and our family members and our friends from actually saying, ‘I need help. I’m going through something,’” she said. “The brain is the only major organ in our very complex system that, when it is in distress, we ostracize them, we pass judgment on them, we treat them as outcasts.”

Peters, a high school biology teacher and VCU graduate, was unarmed, naked and undergoing what Blanding described as her brother’s first mental health crisis on May 14. As he charged the police officer, the officer tried unsuccessfully to stop him with a Taser, and then shot him.

“Marcus needed help,” Blanding said. “He didn’t need, nor did he deserve, death.”

Blanding was a keynote speaker Tuesday at “Richmond [Re]Visited 2018: The Intersections of Race & Mental Health,” an event organized by the VCU School of Social Work Black Lives Matter Student-Alumni-Faculty Collective that explores Richmond’s history and provides context for issues affecting social workers and community members.

The event, now in its fourth year, focused on a theme of mental health and racial justice.

M. Alex Wagaman, Ph.D., a member of the collective and an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, said the goal of this year’s event was to help participants — students, faculty, staff and alumni — gain a “better understanding of the ways in which our country’s history of violence toward people of African ancestry is a form of intense trauma that has never been healed.

“We want social workers to understand the systemic and community context necessary for mental wellness, including the ways in which social work has upheld white supremacy,” Wagaman said. “And we want everyone to identify ways that they can practice social work through a racial justice lens, including the dismantling of white supremacy in our communities and the organizations where we work.”

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Check out these summer reading tips, part of HCPS’ ‘Summer Reading Kick-Off’

“During these unprecedented times, it’s more important than ever to stay connected,” said Shannon Hyman, HCPS library services specialist. “This summer, Virginia authors, illustrators, and community partners are joining with our school librarians to challenge our students to stay connected through reading. All activities are optional, engaging, and designed to encourage learners to read widely all summer long.”

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Henrico County Public Schools’ “Summer Reading Kick-Off” aims to build students’ reading skills – and encourage fun – all summer long. At three interactive webpages for HCPS elementary, middle, and high school students, you’ll find reading resources, activities, and tips for keeping your students engaged this summer.

The colorful interactive summer reading pages are available by going to www.henricoschools.us and looking under “Hot Topics” or at https://sites.google.com/henrico.k12.va.us/mockupedflix/summer-reading. The page also features a video welcome to HCPS’ summer program, featuring 15 Virginia authors and illustrators, as well as HCPS community partners.

Students can click and explore as they navigate the reading resources and activities appropriate for their school level. The tropical “Elementary Island” page features an explorable beach resort, the middle school page resembles a comfortable hangout for tweens, and the high school site, based on a day at the park, enables students to select useful reading apps on a virtual cell phone. Each page features a video tour by an HCPS librarian.

The sites include student “launch boards” with activities such as reading a cookbook and making a recipe (elementary), making a stop-motion video based on a book (middle school), and drafting a resume (high school). Students can explore ways to find great reads, take part in virtual book clubs, hear audiobook talks, and more.

“During these unprecedented times, it’s more important than ever to stay connected,” said Shannon Hyman, HCPS library services specialist. “This summer, Virginia authors, illustrators, and community partners are joining with our school librarians to challenge our students to stay connected through reading. All activities are optional, engaging, and designed to encourage learners to read widely all summer long.”

How can you encourage your student to read? These tips from HCPS librarians and Library Services Department staff members can help:

  • Read aloud together with your student every day, at every age.
  • Borrow audiobooks and listen as a family.
  • Opt outside. Bring your book, read on your device, or download an audiobook and enjoy on a walk.
  • Pick up some great magazines to enjoy in the car, at the pool or under a tree! Magazines are gateways to other reading materials and foster visual literacy.
  • Explore Henrico County Public Libraries’ great programs and activities. Your school librarian will be working with our public libraries to share summer reading activities, lists, and opportunities with all students. Be sure to check out Henrico County Public Library’s summer reading program, at henricolibrary.org/summerreading.
  • Remember, if you want your student to read, give them ample opportunities to see YOU reading, too!

For more summer reading tips, go to https://sites.google.com/henrico.k12.va.us/mockupedflix/summer-reading and click on “Printable Summer Reading Overview Page.”

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HCPS families: Take a short survey and help Henrico County Public Schools plan for fall reopening

“The input we get from families and staff will be critical as we formulate our plans,” said Amy Cashwell, HCPS superintendent. “HCPS will take into account state guidance, the advice of health experts and the wishes of the larger community before making any final determinations for the fall.”

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Henrico County Public Schools will reopen in the fall, but what exactly will that look like? The school division is making plans for a safe and healthy return to school and is seeking the input of HCPS families and staff members. The survey results will be used for planning purposes and respondents are not committing to any choices for the 2020-21 school year.

HCPS parents, guardians, and employees received an email recently with a link to a short video about reopening, followed by a survey. The email sender will be “Henrico County Public Schools” and the subject line will read “Back to school: Your feedback needed.” The survey is open through July 5. It is only available to HCPS employees and student households.

“The input we get from families and staff will be critical as we formulate our plans,” said Amy Cashwell, HCPS superintendent. “HCPS will take into account state guidance, the advice of health experts and the wishes of the larger community before making any final determinations for the fall.”

On June 9, Virginia officials issued guidelines for state schools and school divisions to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. HCPS will use the state guidance, along with staff and community input, to create detailed plans for instruction and health. After an initial review of the guidelines, HCPS is pursuing a plan that combines two approaches: one hybrid model that alternates in-person and virtual learning, and a second fully virtual, parallel pathway:

  • Hybrid learning pathway: One portion of the student body would attend classes on campus for a period of time, while another portion would learn remotely. This pathway contains several options under consideration. The two groups might alternate days or weeks on campus to build a blended learning environment. Having fewer students on campus would make it easier to implement distancing guidelines.
  • Parallel all-virtual learning pathway: Based on the choice of parents or guardians, students may opt for a fully virtual learning experience that parallels the “in-person” instruction happening in classrooms.

Before reopening for any large-scale in-person instruction, HCPS and other Virginia school divisions must show how they will comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 prevention strategies, including:

  • Use of face coverings.
  • Health screenings for staff and students.
  • Physical distancing measures.
  • Enhanced hygiene practices for staff and students.
  • Isolating symptomatic cases.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

Those not receiving the email should check their email account’s spam or junk folders. For questions about the survey, or if you did not receive an email, contact Helen Whitehurst in HCPS’ Department of Assessment, Research, and Evaluation at [email protected].

For an overview of HCPS’ plans as they stand prior to community feedback, watch the video below.

The school division will make additional announcements as plans continue to be developed in accordance with the Commonwealth’s new health and safety guidelines.

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Education

RPS Virtual Meeting is Tonight (Monday)

This work session of the Board will be dedicated to the 2020-21 Reopening Plan.

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The RPS School Board will hold a work session today, Monday, June 29, 2020 at 6 pm. This work session of the Board will be dedicated to the 2020-21 Reopening Plan. Public comment is being accepted and we apologize for any confusion about its inclusion in tonight’s meeting. To submit comments, please email them to [email protected] by 1:00 pm, Monday, June 29, 2020.

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